Blast rocks Serbian bank in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia: A powerful blast rocked the offices of a Serbian bank in southern Kosovo late Tuesday, officials said. No one was injured.

The explosion took place in the ethnically mixed town of Dragas, in the mountainous region bordering Macedonia, and targeted the only Serbian bank allowed to operate in Kosovo by the United Nations mission that runs the province, said police spokesman Veton Elshani.

Police said the blast ripped through the bank’s offices, shattering windows and causing considerable damage to the building’s structure.

The area where the explosion happened is inhabited by a Serbian-speaking Muslim community that shuns Kosovo’s authorities and mostly follows instructions from Belgrade.

Notice that whenever a group in Kosovo isn’t content to go along with the new disorder, they are depicted as foot soldiers following orders “from Belgrade.” That’s right, Folks. The problem isn’t the 90% of Kosovo — and the whole of the international community — that follow instructions from the KLA. No, it’s the less than 10% that “follow instructions” from Belgrade.

That scary, castrated Belgrade. Let’s stop to think for a moment why it might be that these people — co-religionists of the Albanian majority, no less — “follow instructions from Belgrade.” What might account for this loyalty? Could these folks of the mountains be the Gorani? Indeed they are the Gorani. Let’s meet them and hear their story, from Hiding Genocide in Kosovo:

The People of the Mountains

The Gorani or Goranci literally means ‘people of the mountains’ and the region they inhabit is called Gora. They are Muslims, what are sometimes referred to as Slav Muslims, whose traditions and lifestyle is specific to them. They have their own traditional costumes. Although they are Muslims, they still celebrate Slavas (Feast Days normally associated with the Serbian Orthodox Church).

…In all my travels round Kosovo I have never seen such a beautiful place. This is unspoiled nature….remote, mysterious, pristine…The roads winding around the mountain sides are one reason why Gora is still remote…As you drive from Dragash town, the main urban centre in the district, you leave behind you the modern world and enter a different place…The villages cling precariously to the sides of the hills and you hope and pray fervently that your four wheel drive system will stay the course. You find small signs that the “outside” has been here since only relatively recently. Occasionally, you see a satellite television dish. In one village in the main square you can see a U.S. Chrysler Dodge Special Forces jeep that made it here in 1945 and never got anywhere else. It is the central monument in the village where people meet and children play, serving the same purpose that a fountain or a statue might elsewhere.

However, not even here can you escape the fundamental changes that have engulfed Kosovo since the West’s humanitarian intervention in 1999. There is no escaping that. Gora came in for some very heavy bombing during the NATO campaign including the use of depleted uranium munitions despite the fact that there were no significant Serbian military forces in the area…With the arrival of UNMIK in June 1999 the administrative district was redrawn to produce the municipality of Dragash (named after the largest town in Gora). This new municipality lumped together the 18 Gorani villages with 19 nearby Albanian villages in the Opulje area, producing a municipality with an Albanian majority. By this action alone the death knell was sounded for their community as for the first time they became a minority in their own “region”. Then there began a campaign of terror which has continued to this day.

Like the majority of the Albanians, the Gorani are Muslim but this has not saved them from harassment, intimidation and outright attack. The Gorani speak Serbian and in general give their allegiance to Belgrade. They see themselves as citizens of the country of Serbia and this has marked them out for attack. They, like all the other communities, could not be left alone. They too had to be destroyed.

Almost as soon as the Serbian security forces withdrew in June 1999 and KFOR arrived, Gorani people faced assaults. People were beaten up in the streets or even in their own houses. Bombs were planted in houses and shops. The Gorani have a tradition of keeping small pastry shops specialising in baked delicacies famous all over the former Yugoslavia. Many shops in Dragash town were expropriated by Albanians, mostly newcomers that the Gorani did not know. The latter complain that after the Albanians returned — many fled during the NATO bombardment — more came back than actually went. In the case of Gora many of these Albanians allegedly came from the country Albania over the mountains. The Gorani like others allege that during that period, 1999-2001, UNMIK was handing out UNMIK I.D. cards willy-nilly. Apparently, all one had to do was say your papers were destroyed in the war, have two witnesses swear that you are who you say you are and you live in such and such a street, and it was that easy…

In 1999, the UÇK killed seven Gorani…In the year 2000 Mendo Aslani from Vraniste was killed in Dragash. Also killed that year was Rasiti Kadir from Radesa who was killed in Mitrovica. In 2001 Rahte Irfan was killed in Dragash his home town. In 2002 Mustafa Saladin was killed in his home village of Krstac. Since then another six Gorani have been murdered. The methods vary but they are always carried out with total disregard to the rule of law or the possibility of ever being caught.

One Gorani was killed by a bomb planted at night while he slept in his house, only five metres away from the police station in Dragash town. Another was gunned down in front of his wife and family in his own living room. One was shot dead in the office of his place of work. Many more have been wounded in bombings, shootings, knife attacks and beatings.

The Gorani are a close knit community. Virtually everyone knows everyone. The impact of killings and assaults is magnified because in most cases you know the victim. As Gorani fled their houses and shops especially in Dragash town, freedom of movement became even more restricted…As recently as late 2005 and early 2006 two buses going from Dragash town to Belgrade were attacked with rifle grenades. Luckily on both occasions they failed to detonate although German KFOR who defused the grenades told Gorani representatives that the explosives were real…Like all the other places where non Albanians live, such attacks deter freedom of movement.

From a population of around 27,000 in the 1990s the Gorani community now numbers about 7,000. Like the Serbs, Roma and Croats they did not suit the new Kosovo and like the other communities they were not protected…Another problem for this beleaguered community is that for many years the Gorani have travelled to Western Europe to ply their traditional trades of pastry and sweet making, particularly in Germany and Austria. However, these people have an immense attachment to their home place, Gora, and worked in Western Europe with the intention of earning good money and then retiring in some comfort to Gora. Now, the houses of most of these people have been illegally occupied by Albanians. The Gorani “retirees” like the Croats of Letnica have nowhere to retire to now. Court cases launched against illegal occupants have had little success. Even in cases where they do win a judgement demanding the restoration of the property to the rightful owner, the house is usually torched soon after the illegal occupant vacates it.

Dragash town used to boast of an excellent health centre where more than 40 Gorani people worked, many of them medical specialists, surgeons, doctors, nurses all skilled in particular disciplines. An Albanian mob attacked the health centre in broad daylight and beat up the staff inside. 21 of them fled, too afraid to stay in Dragash. These are now mostly working in different hospitals around Serbia. The others were considering going but Gorani representatives pleaded with them not to go.

Apart from security, the Gorani list illegally occupied property as their second biggest problem…Gorani representatives have a list of more than 200 businesses that have been taken from them by force. Various methods are used to intimidate or harass the Gorani. For example in December 2005 a truck carrying food and other humanitarian assistance from the Serbian Red Cross arrived in the centre of Dragash town. Three Albanians approached and demanded to photograph anyone who went near the truck. One of them then claimed to be an official from the municipality who had to carry out a “sanitary inspection” of the truck. He looked at the tinned food, etc., and told the Gorani representative that all seemed to be in order ‘for the time being’. The Gorani naturally asked him what he meant by ‘for the time being’. He just smiled and got out of the truck. Then three men came and said that they were going to confiscate the truck. Luckily, a German KFOR patrol arrived at that moment and for once, thankfully, intervened ordering them to go away…A few days later the Albanian-language newspaper, Koha Ditore, which is published in Pristina carried a story alleging that the Serbs were sending poisoned food to the Gorani in Dragash. Albanians have used this type of propaganda in the past with similar stories circulating about the Serbs trying to poison Albanian school children. This type of propaganda has incredibly been believed and even propagated by the western media.

Gorani people who were employed in the public utility services or in business companies were almost invariably kicked out of their jobs in 1999 when UNMIK and KFOR took over the running of the province. In one large textile company ‘Drateks’ more than 500 Gorani lost their jobs. In the forestry service 15, in the agricultural enterprise ‘Sarproizvodi’ 37 Gorani lost their jobs, in the post office seven, in the Municipal Court 10 people including four judges, in the Communal Services Enterprise 21 were forced out, in the Commercial enterprise ‘Kritnik’ 28 lost employment, etc, etc. The list goes on.

Another tactic to dispossess and ultimately drive out the Gorani is to build illegally on land belonging to Gorani people. There is never any compensation…A relatively new tactic the Albanians are using against the Gorani is to interfere with their access to education. The Gorani are traditionally fond of educating their children and many go on to third level education. They wish to have their children educated in their own language so that for those who do go on to higher secondary and tertiary education, they can do so in Serbia. The local authorities are demanding that the young Gorani children attend local schools which are now dominated by Albanians. The Gorani representatives see this as a clear attempt to “Albanise” them. They fear for the future and for the forced assimilation tactics which have also been used with the Bosniak communities in the Zupa valley where I have also witnessed the forced assimilation of non Albanians.

Some 20,000 Gorani have fled since 1999, mostly to Serbia proper or in a few cases to the West. They do not know if they can survive as a community. If they do go, a unique place, a unique culture will be irretrievably lost. The Gorani think that the only possibility they have of survival in these circumstances is to have their own municipality in Gora which can link up with Serbian areas for trade, etc. They see no future for themselves as part of an Albanian-dominated Kosovo.

My Gorani friends are at pains to ask not be identified in any official reports. They fear they will be targeted by the Albanians if they are seen to be complaining about the new reality in Kosovo. However they know they are always targets anyway.

One night around 11p.m. in January 2007 one of my friends from a small village not far from Dragash town was retiring to bed with his wife when he heard his daughter calling from downstairs. She had been with friends in the square near the mosque where the young people usually meet to chat. He opened the window to see his daughter shouting that there was a black box on the doorstep and a funny smell, something like acid. He told her to run back to the square immediately. She needed no further warning. Just as he turned away from the window, the device in the box detonated throwing him across the room. It virtually demolished the house collapsing the main gable wall. He and his family were lucky. His daughter got back to the square just as the bomb went off. No one was seriously injured although my friend is now partially deaf in one ear. No one has been apprehended for this attack or for any other serious crime in Gora.

Now every year on 16 June, the Albanians celebrate the “Liberation of Dragash”.